Group worries about landfill’s afterlife

Posted Nov. 26, 2008, at 10:48 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:10 a.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — As the Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden continues its creep toward closure, state and local officials are working to ensure that any environmental damage caused by the landfill is properly dealt with.

A special town meeting was held this week in Hampden to update the public on that process, a discussion town manager Sue Lessard characterized as very positive.

“The landfill has been a subject of much controversy for many, many years,” she said. “Since the facility was slated for closure, we have been having these meetings to get up to date and see how the process is going. I think it’s fair to say that people watching [on public television] or attending would have come away with good information.”

Not everyone was sold, though.

Members of the Hampden Citizens Coalition, who have opposed the Pine Tree Landfill for many years, said not enough is being done on the environmental end. Bill Lippincott, chairman of the citizens group, agreed that the meeting was informative but also said the landfill and its operator, Casella Waste Systems, are not being held to strict enough standards.

“It’s discouraging to me that there is no urgency to deal with groundwater contamination,” he said. “There’s no real teeth to get them in compliance.”

The Pine Tree Landfill has been accepting waste for 35 years, but it’s nearing capacity and is slated for closure in 2010. However, the town and Casella came up with a way to keep the landfill a viable business by creating a $10 million gas-to-energy extraction facility. The elaborate network of wells and pipes that connect the interior of the landfill to the extraction plant collects methane gas produced by the decomposing waste. That gas is transferred to an extraction plant where it is cleaned and then used to power generators that make electricity.

Lippincott said the leachate from the waste that has festered over decades has filtered into the groundwater and will continue to do so even after the landfill is closed. High rates of toxins, including arsenic, have been documented. According to state environmental laws, Casella has the length of its lease on the gas-to-energy facility, or 30 years, to deal with groundwater contamination. Lippincott and others think that’s too long.

“My feeling is that it certainly could be dealt with sooner, but at what cost?” he said. “We would like to see more aggressive mediation. It’s not a healthy situation.”

Lessard countered that the 30-year deadline is misleading.

“While the law says 30 years, no one is going to wait 29 before they start doing anything,” she said. “Within five years and maybe sooner, there will be a review, and if things are not proceeding as they should, we can make adjustments.”

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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